Solutions Summit discusses projected skilled worker shortage

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Sequoiya Lawson
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Combating the projected shortage of skilled aerospace workers in Middle Georgia was at the heart of discussion with base and private industry leaders at the 2007 Middle Georgia Work Ready Aerospace Partnership Solutions Summit at the Robins Conference Center Tuesday.

"We can expect to hire people that come out of cookie cutter learning institutions, or we can go over to those learning institutions and tell them what we're looking for," said U.S. Representative Tony Sellier, R-Georgia.  "We've got to be involved at the ground level in providing our workforce with the knowledge they need."

The aerospace workforce in Georgia may soon be insufficient to support projected growth in workloads by both public and private employers. According to a WR-ALC press release approximately 3,000 new workers will be needed in the next two years, based on known projections within the maintenance, repair and overhaul sector alone.

"I'm concerned about the person nearby that feels they have to leave the local area to develop their skills," said Rep. Sellier. "We have some of the best teaching and learning institutions in the nation, so let's keep our young folks at home...that helps the community, our state and our region."

After eight months of preparation, the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in partnership with the Georgia Aerospace Innovation Center and the National Aerospace Develop-ment Center hosted the summit to brainstorm on how to solve these issues.

"(The summit) is a great step forward for the Center, for the aerospace industry and for our learning and education partners," said Robert Williams, deputy director of personnel for the Center. "We need to ensure that through collaborative partnerships we have a ready worker base to draw from that could turn fairly quickly as we have more and more people entering into retirement age."

Mr. Williams said upwards of 40 percent of the Robins workforce will be entering retirement age over the next few years.

Troy Thrash, executive director of The National Aerospace Development Center based out of Alpharetta said the average national age of aviation and space workers is 55.

"Even NASA said they employ more people older than 70 years old than they do younger than 30," Mr. Thrash said. "The concern is that we don't have knowledge transfer mechanisms in place to take what's in the brains of those 70 year olds back down to the kids coming up in the aerospace industry today."

"(The summit) is important because we have to share this workforce," said Joseph Marks, director of materials at TIMCO Aviation Services, a private industry representative at the summit. "Our goal is to spread our knowledge of aviation to children coming up through the school system so we can train a viable workforce for the future."

Mr. Marks said TIMCO is still in the planning process right now, but hopes to get curriculum into some middle Georgia high schools by the 2008 school year.

"We want to work together to get children more interested in aviation," said Mr. Marks, who has been in the aviation field for more than 23 years. "Once you get into it you get hooked."

Robins has similar initiatives in progress which include expanding its current Youth Apprenticeship Program with local high schools to white collar areas.

Mr. Williams said the aerospace industry is in need of a full spectrum of careers including financial management, engineering, information technology and supply chain management.

The plan is to assign a base liaison at each of the six high schools in the local area to work with counselors and help demystify the process of getting a job at Robins, said Mr. Williams.

This includes a list of suggested courses and offering field trips to areas such as Robins and the Museum of Aviation.

"Everybody loves rockets and dinosaurs in second grade, but we need to start building that bridge from what kids are studying now to what they can be when they grow up," Mr. Thrash said. "We have to make sure kids understand that the math class they have today and the science class they have tomorrow is going to be very important years down the road."

The one-day summit served as a critical waypoint for two parallel aerospace workforce development initiatives through general discussions and breakout sessions.

The "demand side" of the summit consisted of the Air Force and private industry focusing on sharing employment projections, workforce skill needs and developing effective processes to fulfill those workforce needs.

The state and community education and training systems formed the "supply side" partnership which addressed the aerospace sector's growing needs and, ultimately how to prevent the unneeded loss of significant aerospace business opportunities and future workloads to other states.

More than 100 representatives from aerospace educational and training components, private and state universities and colleges and other workforce investment systems were in attendance.

Col. Robert Simmons, director of the Force Training Directorate, a key organization in planning the summit, said attendees will most likely meet again in the upcoming months to follow-up on the progress of plans the group made.